Security ministers: Facebook message encryption threatens public safety

Facebook message encryption
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An open letter was sent to Facebook by security ministers from the US, UK and Australia urging it to rethink its plans regarding message encryption.

The letter was signed by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, the US Attorney General William Barr, Acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and the Australian minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. The security ministers argued that the Facebook message encryption policy is a threat to the “lives and the safety of our children”.

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While Facebook said “people have the right to have a private conversation online,” they pointed out that the policy could hinder international initiatives to grant law enforcers faster access to private messages on social media, as agreed upon by the UK and US.

The agreement enables British law-enforcement agencies to request from US tech firms data relating to terrorists, child-sexual abusers and other serious criminals. It is aimed at accelerating investigations. Currently, the process of requesting data from US firms typically takes about six months to two years.

However, Will Cathcart, head of Facebook-owned WhatsApp, said: “End-to-end encryption protects that right for over a billion people every day.” Facebook also claimed that it is “consulting closely with child safety experts, governments and technology companies and devoting new teams and sophisticated technology” to keep people safe.

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The letter further argued: “Tech companies like Facebook have a responsibility to balance privacy with the safety of the public. So far nothing we have seen from Facebook reassures me that their plans for end-to-end encryption will not act as barrier to the identification and pursuit of criminals operating on their platforms.”

It added: “Companies cannot operate with impunity where lives and the safety of our children is at stake, and if Mr. Zuckerberg really has a credible plan to protect Facebook’s more than two billion users, it’s time he let us know what it is.”